I attended the European Council meeting held in Brussels on 14 and 15 March. The discussions focused on economic issues and growth and the situation in Syria. I also set out the three key economic issues of tax, transparency and trade; and the issues around terrorism that the UK will be pursuing at the G8 summit at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June.
Economic Issues and Growth
I have made the case at successive European Councils, alongside Chancellor Merkel and other like-minded leaders, for practical steps to strip away the red tape and EU directives that hamstring our businesses, especially small and medium-sized businesses—which have provided 85% of new jobs in the EU over the last decade. A fundamental principle for a reformed European Union has to be competitiveness. We cannot hope to succeed in the global race unless we tackle the self-inflicted weakness of excessive regulation and complex rules that stifle business.
In response, this European Council agreed that by June 2013, the Commission will set out proposals for how to reduce burdens on small and medium-sized enterprises including, for example, on rules on chemicals, product safety and customs. It also agreed that by the autumn of 2013, the Commission will produce a list of unnecessary EU rules to be reversed and removed from the statute book.
Britain and France have argued for several months that we need to amend the EU arms embargo to give us more flexibility to respond to events on the ground and to support the Syrian National Coalition. Last month, the Foreign Secretary secured agreement to amend the arms embargo so that we can provide non-lethal equipment; and technical assistance, advice and training to the National Coalition.
However, given the pace of events and the risk of deterioration on the ground, it is important to move now to create the option to go further if the National Security Council decides urgent action is necessary. President Hollande and I therefore secured agreement that, ahead of the deadline for renewing, amending or ending the embargo at the end of May, EU Foreign Ministers should consider further changes to the arms embargo to broaden support for the National Coalition.
Copies of the Council conclusions are available in the Libraries of both Houses.